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(FILES) This file photo taken on April 15, 2013 shows US Spencer Hays posing next to his favorite masterpiece by French painter Edouard Vuillard "Les Premiers Pas" (1894) after receiving the Officer of Legion of Honour from French Culture Minister at the Orsay Museum in Paris.US art collector Spencer Hays died on March 2, 2017, aged 80. AFP Photo

PARIS: The American art collector Spencer Hays – who had donated more than 600 artworks to the Musee d’Orsay in Paris – has died suddenly aged 80, the French culture ministry said Thursday.

His gift of paintings by post-Impressionist French masters including Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis was worth more than 350 million euros ($368 million), the biggest donation to a French gallery since World War II.

The colourful businessman, who began his career as a door-to-door book salesman for the Southwestern Company in Texas before rising to become its majority shareholder, was awarded the Legion of Honour with his wife Marlene Hays.

The couple had also built a perfect replica of an 18th-century Paris mansion, the Hotel de Noirmoutier, in Nashville where they lived.

French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay said Hays was “a great friend of France, a great friend of the arts and of the Musee d’Orsay.”

The museum also paid tribute to a great Francophile and philanthropist.

“Born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, Spencer Hays grew up in a poor family, far from the museum world,” it added in a statement. --AFP

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